The same general points apply to domestic politics in the Ahmadinejad era. The extremist mullahs and the Supreme Ayatollah combined to destroy the reform movement that elected Mohammad Khatami twice between 1997 and 2005 and ensure that Iran remains a clerical-fascist totalitarian regime whose religious dogmas dictate full control over both public and private life in that country of 70 million people . . . ruled by a pervasive secret police. Forty percent of the population lives in poverty. And a good half of the 70 million Iranians are ethnic minorities who seem to hate their Farsi-speaking (Persian) rulers.
So what then has changed during Ahmadinejad's tenure?
At most, he has raised the frantic-tempo of the regime's Islamo-fascist propaganda --- especially with his blustering diplomacy, Jew-hating stridency, and fired-up Mahdi-Messiah mumbo-jumbo, full of Apocalyptic dogmas that are actually part of all mainstream Islam, Shiite or Sunni, except for his own cult's cocksure belief that the Mahdi will soon return for that Armageddon Showdown with the infidel world . . . thanks to the Mahdi's personal vassal himself, now Iran's president. It's not that these frenzied neo-Nazi speeches and cagey fist-pounding diplomacy haven't had an influential fall-out. They have. Not least, they've pushed him to the fore of popularity in Islamic circles world-wide . . . at any rate among the 70% or so of Muslims who resent their societies' backwardness, feel humiliated and shamed by it, feel too that it has nothing to do with Islam but rather is the outcome of a world-wide crusade against Islam led by the global Jewish conspiracy and Jew-dominated America, and who long for a Strongman Islamic Champion to rise up and slay the fire-breathing Jew demons and somehow, by magical means, make Islam strong, powerful, influential, and hence on schedule once more --- as all Muslims believe will happen --- to take control of the entire world in the future.
But Back Here on the Planet Earth, It's Evident That . . .
no major changes in Iranian policies can be detected. That's true, note quickly, not just in military and foreign policies, let alone in nuclear ones, but at home in economic and social policies. The upshot? Well, whether most Iranians find their hearts leaping at the thought of a resurgent nuclear-armed Iranian --- or Persian --- Empire is one thing. It's quite another thing that nearly half the country lives in poverty, which Ahmadinejad promised to alleviate as if by magic when he got elected in 2005 . . . since which time poverty and dismal living standards continue to afflict most of the population, while the rich and powerful peg along merrily as ever, enjoying an orgy of predatory corruption thanks to the big surge in oil income. How much longer the motor-mouth bread-and-circus stuff can appease the Iranian masses isn't clear. What is clear is that the regime is detested by most Iranians, something even a newspaper opinion poll captured back in 2001 when there was a half-hearted reform president in power. Want exact figures? Practically 90% of the Iranian population either hated or disliked the clerical-fascist system.
Siimply said, our problems aren't just with Ahmadinejad: rather, with the entire regime of clerical-fascist Iran, which has consistently supported terrorism since its inception and worked against American and Western influence in the region . . . just as it has opposed any compromise solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute for nearly four decades now. At most, unless Ahmadinejad can place a fanatical crony in the Supreme Ayatollah post once Khamenei soars to Paradise --- some time soon, it seems --- his apocalyptic fantasies, indulgent egomania, and cocky nose-thumbing diplomacy have complicated our dealings with the Cock-of-the-Walk Mullahs and Big-Enchilada Ayatollahs in charge since 1979, and little else.
Today's Theme: The Key Postulates of Deterrence Theory Re-Visited and Dissected
These postulates were set out, originally, in the 2nd article of this series. What follows is a more rigorous analysis of these key abstract postulates, with several concrete historical examples by way of clarification --- and, at the end of the analysis, a lengthy set of doubts about whether the postulates as they were worked out in various phases of the cold war apply, equally, to the problems of deterring a future nuclear-armed terror state like Iran.
As you'll see, these doubts aren't conclusive. They can't be.
For one thing, we don't know enough about the internal factions within Iran's clerical-fascist regime, and for another thing, we don't know whether the hard-nosed mullahs and ayatollahs who've been splurging and spreeing in a bacchanalia of vast money-making at the center of the Iranian oil-trough the last 27 years --- the Iranian Revolution unfolding in 1979 --- worry about Ahmadinejad's rash rhetoric and megalomanic fantasies of a religious abracadabra nature. Worse, even if it turns out that many or most of them do worry about his ambitions and bursting power-aggrandizement, we don't really know whether they have the power or will to stop him, especially if --- as seems likely --- the Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei kicks the bucket soon and Ahmadinejad is able to stuff one of his like-minded religious zealots in that office.
A few clarifiying comments seem in order here:
When the election for the Assembly is over this December, we'll have for a first time an unequivocal measure of where the limits of Ahmadinejad's power happen to lie. If his selected mullahs and ayatollahs dominate the new Assembly, then he'll be able to appoint the next Supreme Ayatollah --- a hand-picked cleric who shares his Mahdi-Messiah theocratic rigmarole and Apocalyptic Showdown beliefs. If they don't dominate, we'll have some clear evidence that his power is hemmed in by the factions that oppose him.
An important point to remember: as the initial articles in this series showed, the current clerical-fascist regime isn't fully united --- divided, rather, into various factions. In foreign policy, all these factions might share Ahma-Ding-a-Ling's geopolitical ambition for Iran, his nuclear enthusiasms, and his heady Shiite religious fantasies and support for terrorism abroad, but then again they might not, and not all of them seem to be happy with his bursting personal ambitions that threaten their own power and prestige.
Just the opposite. We know that some of the top mullahs and aytatollahs worry about his style and rash end-of-the-world rhetoric. We also know that as election looms for the 92-man Assembly of Experts --- favored mullahs and ayatollahs, whose candidacy has been vetted and approved by the very powerful 12-man Guardian Council full of Big Cheese clerics --- the anti-Ahmadinejad candidates have decided to unify against him. Though less important in determing who runs things in Iran than the ultra-powerful Guardian Council --- the latter charged with determining whether any governmental policies meet their religious standards, vetting all candidates for all major offices, and deciding whether or not to accept any electoral results --- the 92-man Assembly of Experts has one significant function: it will decide who will be the Supreme Ayatollah . . . originally the revolutionary fanatic Khomeini, and since 1990 the ailing Khamenei, and as with Nazi Germany and the Fuerher Principle, above all laws and able to dictate whatever he wants.
Note that in December we'll also have another fairly clear indicator of Ahmadinejad's power: that same month, local elections will be held all over Iran, with several tens of thousands of political jobs at issue. All these jobs are enmeshed in crony patron-client relations, full of greed and corruption, and all the candidates elbowing and clapper-clawing their way toward the oil-trough have been vetted by the usual clerical authorities . . . the equivalent of Nazi or Communist Party overseers. Ever since his presidential election in July 2005, Ahmadinejad's followers have been drooling to land those jobs, which would place them nearer the oil-trough . . . even if still on its far extremes and a long long way from the center where the powerful mullahs and ayatollahs are located, most of them opulent and many filthy rich for that matter. The outcome of those local elections will be a further measure of his popularity among the masses, disappointed so far that the president hasn't alleviated any of their poverty despite the oil-inflows over the last 16 months.
Suppose these hard-line powers-that-be do indulge at times in Ahmadinejad's big-power pipe-dreams for Iran: in effect, a fantasized re-run of Persia-the-Mighty Empire of yore that is indistinguishable from mental dementia . . . Iran itself a pitifully backward, half-derelict country, nearly half of whose population lives in poverty. Even so, how many of these big-cheese mullahs and ayatollahs would like a rash Hitler-like gambler in charge of Iran's policies toward the US, Israel, the Europeans, and the surrounding Sunni Muslim countries? Viewed from the outside, after all, such heady reckelessness looks like a sure-fire recipe for national self-destruction, and most likely at chop-chop speed if it's ever the motive-force of major Iranian policies abroad.
And, come to that, remember one more thing here. There are 300,000 mullahs in Iran, all living on state salaries and personal patronage . . . a parasitic drag on an impoverished economy, kept afloat only by high oil prices in world markets. Only a few of these religious free-loaders have a privileged position at the oil-trough, and most of those who do --- millionaires over and again --- no doubt fear losing their huge orgy of privilege, wealth, and power in service of some half-mad theocratic mumbo-jumbo stuff about the Messianic-Mahdi's imminent arrival and the immediate Showdown Apocalypse with the infidel world that will follow.
On another plane, many of the conditions of stable nuclear deterrence that we can infer historically from the cold war period don't and shouldn't apply to a nuclear-armed and aggressive Iran: such as MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction . . . both a technological reality and eventually operational policy that fixated the attention of policymakers in both Washington DC and Moscow during the US-USSR nuclear standoff and incited caution and prudence in their policy calculations, with neither side wanting to end up in a mutually suicidal nuclear war. None of this applies to a nuclear-armed Iran in the future. For decades to come, if not forever, its deployed nuclear weapons will lack the numbers, diversity, and invulnerability that made a deliberate recourse to nuclear war a self-destructive policy for the US and Soviet leaders in the cold war period . . . with an inadvertent war hedged in by a variety of arms control measures that ensued after the Cuban missile crisis of late 1962.
The upshot? Way into the future, any Iranian nuclear weaponry will remain vulnerable to a successful first-strike by either the US or its nuclear allies in Europe or Israel.
Pointers to Future Articles in This Series on Iran
Whether, of course, any future British or French government would ever launch a preventive or pre-emptive strike is another matter: increasingly, the will of the political parties there to fight Islamic extremism, terrorism, and even the use of nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction seems to be ebbing out of them . . . yes, even in Britain, where most of the Labour Party's voters seem entangled in a thicket of national self-doubt, self-hatred, and multicultural fantasies, and where the need to win elections will probably reign in even a future Conservative government to take a tough line with Islamic fascist governments abroad or extremist movements at home. As for France, no American president will likely ever trust it in the future as a reliable ally --- whether that president happens to be a Democrat or Republican. Its leaders will always follow self-serving policies of a narrow nationalist and electoral domestic sort, and only if a US administration is convinced that French diplomatic and military interests of those narrow sort overlap with those of the United States will it likely see France as anything but a neutral or even half-adversarial country that happens to remain in NATO as a way of trying to maximize its little influence on other European countries or the United States itself.
Our country --- plus a few reliable allies in East Europe, Australia, Israel, and probably increasingly Japan and India --- is entirely a different matter. No one should doubt that at some point a US president would have the will and certainly the military power to destroy Iran's nuclear force and the country as a functioning society if it comes to the crunch. The same is true of Israel, even if its own tiny territory remains far closer and much more vulnerable to some made-in-Iran nuclear warheads could penetrate an increasingly effective anti-missile system or be delivered by terrorist proxies.
THE KEY POSTULATES OF ALL DETERRENCE THEORY
Nuclear Deterrence Stripped to the Bone: A Series of Pivotal Assumptions at the Core of All Deterrence Theorizing
1. The Distinction between Coercion and Force
Both deterrence and compellence in statecraft work by means of a state's leadership projecting credible coercive threats to retaliate with unacceptable damage if the adversarial target-state doesn't do what it wants. Note that another common name for compellence is coercive diplomacy.
These two sorts of coercive threats --- deterrent or compellent --- contrast with the actual use of military force, whether nuclear or conventional.
More specifically, each of these coercive threats is intended to influence the decision-making calculus of the target-state --- say, Iran --- and induce its political leaders to comply with the deterring or compelling state's demands. Threats rely on the promised use of military force or, at times, severe economic sanctions backed by blockades, boycotts, and embargos . . . the latter generally ineffective in dealing with dictatorial regimes on issues of significance to them, and so focus your minds on threatened military retaliation only.
Where does the use of force enter into the deterrent or compellent calculus?
In plain language, the actual use of defensive military force is what the coercing state has to fall back on in case deterrence failed, and the target-state launches a military attack on your territory or that of an ally or important neutral state. A recourse to force would also be needed, of course, if a compellent threat fails to coerce the target-state into making the concessions that the coercing state demands --- say, Iraq failing to dismantle a future deployed nuclear force, only in this case the use of force would be offensive in nature . . . intended at some point in a war to coerce the target-state's leaders into making the original concessions, and possibly other concessions as well.
If, alternatively, the deterrent or compellent threats seem credible, they will have raised the costs of aggressive action for the target-state's leaders, and presumably to the point that these costs outweigh the gains of such action in their minds. Or so deterrence theory postulates.
2. Deterrence vs. Compellence Clarified, Plus the Use of Force If Either Fails
Deterrent threats differ from compellent threats in the same way that the defensive uses of military force differ from its offensive uses.
Deterrence, to put it tersely, is intended to prevent aggressive action by the target-state that would change the existing geo-political status-quo in the aggressive state's favor. In that sense, deterrence is a defensive use of coercive threats. By contrast, compellence is offensive in nature . It aims to use coercive threats to pressure the target-state's leadership into making concessions that would alter the existing geo-political status quo in its favor, and hence at the expense of the targeted state.
Focus, for the moment, only on deterrence and the need for effective and deployed defensive forces as a back-up to make a deterrent threat credible. Think then, if it helps, of the US deterrent to prevent a Soviet-Warsaw Pact attack on West Europe during the cold war by threatening --- at some point during an invasion --- to retaliate with nuclear weapons.
Suppose, to clarify this, that the US nuclear deterrent threat had failed, and a Soviet-led invasion was under way. In that case, the US and its NATO allies needed to fall back on already deployed military forces to fight and defeat a Warsaw Pact invasion. The initial defense against invading forces would have to be conventional, at any rate unless the US president was willing to use nuclear weapons immediately. The problem was, any such use would have automatically led to the retaliatory use of Soviet nuclear weapons, at which point you're in a nuclear war whose escalation might not be controllable . . . what with the fears and anxieties it would have engendered. Enter deterrence again. In short, without large, readily visible military forces of all sorts deployed on NATO-protected soil that didn't look like easy pickings, any US threat of nuclear retaliation would have likely lacked much, if any, credibility . . . at any rate, once the Soviet Union acquired Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles to strike the US homeland.
Some Key Sidebar Clarifications.
(i.) The last sentence above needs to be qualified. (Note that these clarifying remarks deal with the cold war period, and important as they are to understand, those who prefer to focus on deterrence theory can skip over these clarifications and proceed to the 3rd widely accepted postulate in that theory.)
As it happened, the threat of an immediate recourse to nuclear weapons --- specifically against Soviet cities --- was NATO's initial strategy in the early 1950s for deterring any Warsaw-Pact invasion of West Europe. Dubbed "massive retaliation", the strategy made sense in those days. Our bomber forces, try to remember, were far larger and more effective than the Soviets' at the time, and what's more, they were deployed close to the Soviet Union in West Europe or along its very borders with Turkey, a NATO ally. By contrast, to strike the US homeland, Soviet bombers would have had to fly across a lengthy polar route, and their refueling capacities were limited at best.
The launching of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviets in late 1957 undermined the strategy of massive retaliation.
It was now evident that the USSR would soon deploy Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles --- ICBMs --- that could reach US soil from Soviet launching sites. If, then, the US ever employed nuclear weapons to halt or reverse a Soviet-led invasion of West Europe by destroying Soviet cities, there was no longer anything that we could do to prevent Moscow from retaliating with nuclear weapons on US cities. In such circumstances, what new strategy would restore the credibility of American nuclear deterrence?
(ii.) Believe it or not, the search for a new NATO deterrent strategy remained plagued by controversy for the next 25 years.
Specifically, any effective deterrence had to be able to do two things simultaneously, neither of them easy to achieve: first, it had to seem sufficiently credible to the Soviet leadership that it would hesitate or renounce any aggressive action in Europe as too dangerous and costly --- yes, even in the face of clear Soviet ability to strike back at the US with nuclear weapons if we struck Soviet targets with our own nuclear forces. Second and no less important, an effective NATO deterrent had to reassure the West European allies that the US wouldn't limit itself to relying solely on defensive conventional forces to fight a World War III on European soil.
For a while, in the late 1950s, both US and NATO leaders flirted with deploying tactical battlefield nuclear weapons right along the East-West German borders to restore the credibility of the US nuclear deterrent threat. Initially, the idea seemed promising. Moscow, it was reckoned, wouldn't be able in such circumstances to overwhelm NATO conventional defenses with larger numbers of tanks and divisions; simultaneously, a nuclear threshold would be crossed that nonetheless wouldn't automatically provoke a suicidal nuclear attack by Soviet ICBMs on US cities, thus making the new deterrent threat seem credible. What actually happened? Alas, battlefield exercises showed that tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons might actually favor the offensive side. Worse, the same exercises and future war-game scenarios showed that once any nuclear weapons were used, however limited their territorial expanse, neither Washington nor Moscow could be sure where the nuclear escalation would end.
Enter a major danger of inadvertent nuclear war that plagued NATO and US nuclear strategy for decades: a shared nuclear security-dilemma.
Specifically, in any major crisis --- not just a Soviet-led invasion of West Europe --- a psychological spiral of rapidly rising worry, mistrust, and fear might occur in both American and Soviet leadership circles that could lead one side or the other to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the other's homeland. Far better, it could be argued at some point in this psychological escalation, to get in the initial blow than to suffer it. The result could be tens of millions of deaths in both countries, never mind the radiation fall-out elsewhere in the world.
That growing realization in the early 1960s, especially after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, led to all sorts of arms control deals with between the Soviets and our leaders in Washington over the next three decades to stabilize the balance of terror and hence try avoiding such an unintended pre-emptive attack that neither side would have wanted in a cooler state of mind: the hot-line, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, encouragement by American strategists that both sides --- not just the US --- make their retaliatory forces fully invulnerable to either a deliberate first-strike or an intended pre-emptive strike growing out of a crisis like the one over Cuba, and eventually limits on the numbers and kinds of nuclear forces on both sides.
(iii.) To provide NATO with non-nuclear options and restore a credible nuclear deterrent threat, the US and its NATO allies took two measures.
First, large conventional forces in Europe were deployed in the early 1950s and strengthened in the 1960s with more tanks and planes. To that end, moreover, a good 500,000 American troops were deployed all over West Europe and right along the Iron Curtain in divided Germany to ensure that American and large allied forces were, if not a full match for Warsaw Pact forces in number, formidable in their own right --- and doubly so because they could fight from prepared defensive positions.
Second, on the nuclear level starting in 1963, American nuclear strategy moved away from a direct attack on Soviet urban and industrial centers and toward controlled and limited attacks on military and command posts, first on the battlefield, then the rear lines, then into East Europe, and --- if need be --- on military and command post targets in the Soviet Union.. That way, it was argued, a nuclear deterrent threat would take on renewed credibility, with clear firebreaks between different levels of escalation . . . or so it was hoped. Only as a last resort --- the 625th option in the US operational targeting strategy --- would the US president ever approve a direct attack on Soviet urban and industrial centers.
(iv.) In retrospect, the horrors of any nuclear war --- however limited initially --- were probably more than enough to deter any Warsaw Pact aggression throughout the cold war, assuming the Soviet leadership ever contemplated it.
That's easy to see with hindsight. At the time, from the mid-1960s until the mid-1980s, it wasn't that clear. Throughout this period, doubts existed in West Europe whether the US would ever risk using nuclear weapons to defend its territory, what with the prospect of Soviet nuclear retaliation at all levels of nuclear exchanges. Henry Kissinger, then in retirement, startled everyone when he told a NATO conference in 1979 that the entire US nuclear strategy was a bluff: no American president would risk seeing New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Chicago destroyed by deliberately and initially escalating any nuclear attacks on Soviet forces beyond the battlefield area itself..
(v.) Only in the mid-1980s did the worries about an effective deterrence and defense-strategy for NATO ease.
In part, they eased because the US now had powerful precision-guided conventional weapons --- missiles, bombs, artillery shells --- to destroy virtually all Soviet forces, infrastructure, and command posts in East Europe or, if need be again, in the Soviet Union, with a high level of reliability. And in part, too --- after Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union --- the worries further decline once he recognized the need to improve East-West relations if his domestic reform programs were to have any chance of improving the Soviet economy and of modernizing the Soviet military . . . both stuck in an outmoded technological era. The US, Japan, and to an extent parts of West Europe were already moving into an information-based economy, thanks to big breakthroughs in computers, computer software, and telecommunications. Not so the Soviet Union. It couldn't even build a decent car or television set, let alone pc's and advanced telecommunications.
Gorbachev understood just how backward and sluggish the Soviet economy and military were. Hence his reform program.
More specifically, in order to buy breathing space for his reforms to take effect, he began removing large numbers of Soviet tanks and tactical airplanes from East Europe, followed by two other measures of reassurance: progress on a new round of reductions in Soviet and American nuclear capabilities and more freedom for the East European satellites.
Note that the Soviet military heads approved these measures. Worried by NATO's huge advances in precision-guided weapons that relied on computer and communication technologies that the Soviets lacked entirely --- and concerned, too, that Reagan's Star-War missile-defenses would nullify the entire Soviet ICBM system at some point soon --- they agreed with Gorbachev that the thrust in Soviet politics had to be economic reform at home and détente and improved East-West relations abroad, if only to buy time in which to catch up with the West again.
(vi) Ironically, all these desirable changes that Gorbachev initiated eased East-West relations in Europe and elsewhere came just at the end of the cold war itself and the disappearance of the Soviet Union and Communism.
None of this, needless to add, was ever something Gorbachev aimed at. His ambition was to salvage the Soviet Communist system and its empire in East Europe, not to destroy either. As it happened, reforming a bankrupt political and economic system is the hardest thing in the world to do. Gorbachev's incoherent reform programs failed to improve the Soviet economy, any more than it managed to stave off anti-Russian nationalist upsurges within the Soviet Union and in East Europe. Instead, the reforms set off changes that he couldn't control: he was quickly outmaneuvered by radical reformers on the left like Yeltsin, and hemmed in on the other side by diehard Communist Party hacks. The end result? In 1990, the collapse of both the Soviet Union and its empire in East Europe; a year later, the collapse of the Communist Party itself within Yelstin-ruled Russia. In the process, the cold war itself vanished into history.
(vii,) Today, a good 20 years after Gorbachev set out to reform and modernize Soviet Communism and salvage its superpower status, not only has the Soviet Union disappeared, but so has Communism virtually everywhere, and Russia itself remains a decrepit country . . . rapidly aging, rapidly diminishing in population, rapidly reverting to despotism, and blatantly still economically backward, to the point that it is fully dependent on oil and gas exports to stay afloat. Its global status reflects its internal decline.
More to the point, only the ability to cause trouble, aid Iran with nuclear technology, and sell gas and oil exports manages to keep Russia itself from following the Soviet Union and disappearing into the garbage heap of failed authoritarian and totalitarian states. Russian influence even in neighboring states has virtually vanished too. Contrary to Putin's foreign policy ambitions, Russia can no longer intimidate the tiny Baltic states, members of NATO, or even Ukraine and Georgia --- not yet in NATO or the EU, but increasingly able to act domestically and internationally free of Russian pressures.
3. All Deterrence Theory Assumes That Both the Deterring-State and the Targeted-State Will Behave with Cool, Calculating Cost-Benefit Rationality
This is a particularly crucial part of deterrence theory, the relevance of which to a government like the clerical-fascist one in power in Iran --- led by a religious fanatic, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad --- is enveloped in controversy, and no doubt not just among strategists, but within the Bush White House these days. So be sure to read the clarifying comments with care. Prof bug, for his part, promises to make a good case for both sides --- those who believe that a nuclear-armed Iran could still be effectively deterred by a credible nuclear deterrence, and those who doubt it could . . . the latter side of the debate set out in the next (4th) section on deterrence theory:
(i) Start with This Observation: What the Concept of Instrumental Rationality Postulates First and Foremost:
Such careful cost-benefit calculations, as you already know, are another name for instrumental rationality. In effect, the deterring state's leaders are assumed in deterrence theory to behave with carefully calculated cost-benefit policymaking when it decides two things: first, to project a threat to retaliate against military action, and then --- if the target-state ignores the threat and resorts to aggressive action --- that it will in fact retaliate in a similar cool, careful manner. We'll illustrate the first kind of decision with a hypothetical example later in this sub-section, conjuring up a hypothetical scenario in which the Bush administration sets out the options for dealing with Iran's ongoing nuclear programs and seeks to deter the Teheran clerical-fascist mullahs from deploying nuclear weapons.
For the time being, though, focus your attention on the postulate in deterrence that that the political leadership of any target-state, not just Iran, will behave with instrumental rationality when it's faced with a threat of retaliation for aggressive action --- especially if the deterrent threat is nuclear. At its simplest, the credibility of a deterrent threat and hence its ability to coerce the leaders of any target-state --- whether they're democratic or dictatorial, or are subject to clear constitutional restrictions or have shot their way to power, or are largely pragmatic and compromise-minded or are religious or ideological zealots --- will perceive the deterrent threat and the options for dealing with it in roughly the same manner.
(ii) The Chief Reasons
On this view, it doesn't matter whether in the Iranian case Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for instance, is a fervent Shiite radical who believes in his heart that the Mahdi's return is imminent, followed immediately by the heaven-ordained apocalypse --- not, it's important to add, when the deterrent threat that he and the other ruling mullahs are faced with promises, unequivocally, to retaliate with nuclear weapons for Iranian aggressive actions.
In the presence of a clear American threat of such retaliation, you see, he and the ruling mullahs, so deterrence theory postulates, will fully understand how Iran's national interests --- and their own political fortunes and personal survival --- are jeopardized with severe damage if they discount the threat and resort to aggression, and hence will behave with prudence and caution. Nothing so much concentrates a man's mind, the great English literary critic and first dictionary maker, Samuel Johnson, said back in the 18th century, as knowing that he's going to hang soon. Similarly, with so much at stake in the face of a nuclear threat, Ahmadinejad and the other clerical-fascist leaders in Iran won't let ideologically or religious tainted interpretations influence duly the calculations of benefits that might follow from aggressive actions, and the costs that might follow if the US implemented its retaliatory threats.
Make sure you grasp the implications here.
Any differences in the ways, say, that the Shah of Iran (deposed in 1979) or the clerical-fascists now in power perceived big benefits from aggressive military or terrorist action, but also very destructive costs if they resorted to such action, would not be due to different ideologies or worldviews. The Shah was a typical Muslim despot, secular, fairly pragmatic in policymaking, but with grandiose ambitions to make Iran a regional super-power. By contrast,; Ahmadinejad along with the ruling mullahs and Supreme Ayatollah Khameini are Shiite zealots and have quite likely even more grandiose Islamic ambitions, but nonetheless --- faced with an unequivocal threat of nuclear retaliation from the US --- they wouldn't set out the options open to Iran much differently from the Shah and his advisers, and similarly they and he would rank the options and arrive at more or less the same cost-benefit calculations in deciding whether to renounce the benefits of aggressive action or risk it if that's the decision either ruling group reached.
At most, any differences in their perceptions and ranking of options in cost-benefit terms will be due either to inadequate information or insufficient signaling or commitment-behavior by the deterring state --- and not, observe carefully, to ideologically tainted interpretations themselves. Come to that, as we'll see, even high-risk adventurers like a Hitler --- so deterrence theory postulates --- should be deterred if the deterring state has clear nuclear capabilities for retaliating against aggressive adventures and adequately signals its ability, will, and determination to implement its deterrent threat if aggression occurred.
(iii) This Key Point Can Be Rephrased More Concretely.
In deterrence theory, all political leaders are assumed to want the key interests of their state and their own personal and family interests to be protected and flourish: whatever their ideological or religious world-views, they all want to survive, to avoid the costs of wars started by risky aggressive gambles, and possibly to build up their own and their state's power in the international arena . . . not to mention remaining in power if they're dictators or winning the next election if they hold power in a democratic system. Assuring a good future for their children and grand-children would also be another pivotal personal interest.
Oppositely, high-risk wars started by aggressive action would likely work against these personal and state interests . . . or so it's assumed in deterrence theory. If the aggressor-state loses the war, it might also lose its total independence --- exactly as happened to militarist Japan and Nazi Germany at the end of WWII.
(iv) Enter Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence
Before the nuclear age, the major way that status-quo states had to deter aggression was by means of arms-racing and alliances with other states worried about aggression. Balance-of-power politics is another name for such efforts. Inevitably, though, certain high-risk leaders came to power in various major countries --- Napoleon, the militarists and Kaiser in Imperial Germany, Hitler later on, the Japanese militarists, and Soviet Communists, to mention a few of the more notorious high-risk aggressors between 1795 and 1950 or so --- and launched aggressive wars that they all eventually lost. By contrast, so deterrence theory postulates, wars fought with nuclear actions make aggressive action particularly risky and underpin deterrence threats with solid credibility . . . and quite simply because, sooner or later when nuclear weapons are used by both sides at the bottom of the escalation ladder, the biological survive of the entire population might be at stake.
Even short of these two disasters, a lost war could provoke a revolution in a dictatorial regime and the overthrow of the existing political system, at the expense, of course, of the existing dictatorship and its cronies. In a democratic system, even a lost minor war could cost the elected leaders rejection by the voters in the next general election.
What follows in deterrence theorizing?
Simply said, given that the key material interests in survival, prosperity, and future benefits are assumed to be universally shared by all governments --- whether democratic or dictatorial --- even those leaders who are ideologically zealous or high-risk gamblers will be extra-cautious in the face of a nuclear deterrent threat . . . yes, even one that lacks full credibility. In particular, the greater the costs of a threatened retaliation by a deterring state, the more --- or so it's argued --- even fanatical, paranoid, or megalomaniacal leaders will tend to be cautious and weigh those costs carefully against the gains of ignoring the threat and resorting to aggressive military action . . . including the risks of war that follow and who is likely to win if it materializes. Nuclear threats make such cautious cost-benefit calculations even more likely, overwhelming ideological zeal and personality disorders . . . or so, to repeat, it's assumed in deterrence theory.
(v) More formally, The Axiomatic Calculations --- serving, say, as a benchmark for instrumental rational behavior --- Entail Certain Steps of Decision-Making by the Target-State's Leaders When Faced with a Nuclear Deterrent Threat,
Simplifying somewhat, four steps in the cost-benefit calculus stand out:
* There are the hoped-for benefits if the target-state's leaders ignore or discount the threatened retaliatory action --- say, attacking the geo-political status quo in a variety of ways that the deterring state is trying to protect: by use of terrorism, or acquiring new territory and resources, or destroying the military power (and maybe the population) of the deterrer's country or an ally in a aggressive military attack, or achieving regional or global supremacy, or spreading Islam globally . . . what have you.
* Against these benefits, there are the threatened costs to the target-state if the deterring state retaliates militarily (or sometimes economically). These costs include the prospects of a major war.
*At the same time, the probability of such retaliation actually occurring, and which side might win in the event of a war, even a nuclear wa, has to be considered and weighed by the would-be aggressor-state's leaders. The technical term for this is subjective expected utility: the estimates of costs and benefits of alternative actions by the target-state's leaders --- attacking, not attacking, other options like diplomatic negotiations, stalling, and so on --- multiplied by the subjective probability of how the deterring state will respond.
*In weighing these benefits and costs as well as estimated probabilities, the political leaders of the target-state will seek to use the best information possible about the deterring state's options for retaliation attack and also about the determination and will-power of the deterring state's leadership to go to war and use the most menacing retaliatory weapons . . . say, nuclear ones.
(vi.) A new technical term arose a few moments ago: "subjective expected utility." .
Meaning? Meaning, first off, that the costs and benefits can be translated, however roughly, into quantitative utility-terms; some game-theoretical work believes these quantitative terms can be cardinal or interval --- that is, mathematical in a strict sense of the term: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . 100 and so on, with a score (or utility) of 3 being three times larger than 1, and a score of 4 twice as large as 2. Economics uses mainly this kind of data, thanks to dealing with prices, wages, profits, GDP, and so on that translate into dollar terms; but their relevance to any real-world political decision-making regarding deterrence, compellence, and warfare is at most strictly heuristic . . . a way to suggest certain things about certain kinds of past origins of wars, and nothing more. The resulting interval or numerical data would then be multiplied by subjective probabilities . . . with all probability estimates, remember, running between 0 and 1.
In principle, nothing more, the result is a strict cardinal or interval preference schedule that is derived by multiplying the numerical utilities by the estimated probability of those utilities. In turn, and again only in principle, since deterrence is a matter of the deterring state's preferences depending on what the target-state's preferences and options are, we are in a game of what's called strategic interaction: what one state can likely expect to gain or lose depends on what its leaders think the other state's leaders will do in response. At that point, heuristically, a game-theory model can be developed and run.
And of course the deterring state --- the US in dealing with Iran --- would be setting out its own preferences, multiplied by the administration's subjective probability estimates of the costs and benefits of various options.
-- Strictly speaking, even "subjective probability" is misleadingly used in almost all formal deterrence theory: we're not dealing with stochastic events --- large repetitive actions as in chess or roulette to which probability estimates can be given. If chess weren't a stochastic game, then a computer-program couldn't be built to play a human being. Instead, we're dealing with "uncertainty", a far different matter: in particular, how another actor will behave in a unique situation --- aggressive action --- that the deterring state seeks to prevent from occurring.
At most, as happened finally when Hitler broke the Munich Accords of 1938 in early 1939 and demonstrated once and for all to British and French policymakers that Nazi Germany was a thorough-going aggressive state and couldn't be appeased --- appeasement in fact having the exact opposite effect of encouraging more aggression --- a deterring-state's leaders might have a non-controvesial record of a few past aggressive actions. What happened after Nazi Germany marched into Prague and occupied Czechoslovakia? Paris and London knew that the next target of Hitler would be Poland, and both signed an explicit alliance accord with Warsaw, which committed France and Britain to declare war on Germany if it invaded Polish territory. Until the Munich Accords were violated in early 1939, all the evidence about Germany's fervent aggressive ambition was contestable by the appeasers.
(vii) All This Numerical Stuff --- Strict Cardinal Date-Utilities and Strict Cardinal Probability Estimates Between 0 and 1 To Stand for Alternative Courses of Action --- Seems Preposterous in Political Decision-Making of the Sort We're Interested in Here, No?
It should. Even as a heuristic device in computer-run game-theory models, such formalized utility-maximiation and probability estimates have very limited usage. To put it bluntly, such game-theory models are strictly deductive, and though they may inspire case-studies in economics, quite frequently they don't. And that's in economics, which to repeat uses cardinal numbers for its data. In politics, the use of such deductive models is even far more limited.
What's much more practical is a less ambitious form of data-use for setting out preferences and probability guesses: rank or ordinal data for preferences regarding the options open to deterring or compelling states, and the end of any pretence that subjective probability can be given any number at all. Instead, decision-makers in the deterring state --- to stay with them --- would set out the options for, say, stopping Iran from developing and deploying nuclear weapons; rank them in order of their preference for dealing with that danger; and use some qualitative estimate --- like "very likely" to work or "highly unlikely" --- to represent their guesses about using any of the options.
In a minute or so, we'll illustrate this key restatement of the deterrence calculus with a hypothetical example of how the Bush administration, say, would set out the likely US options for pressuring Iran to halt its nuclear programs or, if nuclear weapons are developed and deployed, for retaliating . . . and the weighing of costs, benefits, and subjective probabilities regarding the various options.
(Keep in mind that with rank or ordinal data, the policy-options of a state's leadership can be ranked in order of preference: 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . etc. But unlike cardinal or interval ordering, the 2nd preference might not be twice as bad as the 1st one, or the 4th four times as bad: instead, the 2nd preference might be 10 times worse, and the 4th a million times worse. There are also technical problems with a collective leadership --- more than one decision-maker --- ranking preferences in what's called a "transitive" manner (if option 1 is preferred to option and 2 is preferred to option 3, then 1 is preferred to 3 too); but we can ignore these technicalities here.)
(viii) In Summary, To Make the Best Case Possible for Deterrence Theory, We Can Rephrase Instrumental Rationality in This More Convincing Way:
It's enough, most deterrence theorists would say, if the following conditions were met by Iran's leadership or that of any potential enemy of the US: the leaders of the target-state have to know what their key interests are --- their state's and their own; try to acquire good information about their military options and those of the deterring state; try simultaneously to acquire good information as well about the will-power of the deterring state's leadership to retaliate with war if they discount its deterrent threat and attack; and roughly try to weigh the benefits of aggressive action against the probability and costs of the deterring state seeking to punish their country in retaliatory ways.
Something else should make such loosely defined rational behavior more likely: nuclear weapons. Their existence, particularly in proven delivery ways, makes such careful and prudent decision-making all the more likely . . . all this even if the full-fledged instrumental calculus isn't adhered to in strict quantitative terms by the target-state's leaders. On this view, out of strict self-interest, nuclear weapons have such awesome destructive power that they will very likely induce such behavioral prudence.
(ix) Enter Our Promised Hypothetical Example To Illustrate This Rephrased, More Convincing Form of Instrumental Rationality --- At Any Rate, For the Time Being, By Looking at the Deterrence Calculus from the Viewpoint of the Deterring State's Leaders.
Don't worry, later on we'll look at how the clerical-fascist leadership in Teheran might calculate its options for exploiting the opportunities offered by an Iranian nuclear force. Right now, still trying to make the best case for deterrence theory, we'll look at how --- in purely hypothetical way --- the top policymakers in the Bush administration perceive Iran's nuclear programs and the options for dealing with them.
Assume, as a jump-off point for this hypothetical scenario, that after months of discussion and bargaining within and across various departments and agencies, President Bush has brought his major policy advisers together in an effort to nail down an operationally effective strategy for dealing with the Iranian programs. He sits at the head of the table. Seated around the table on both sides are Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney, Stephen Hedley his National Security Adviser, Michael Hayden (the new head of the CIA), Michael Chertoff of Homeland Security, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Marine General Peter Pace), with the Vice-Chairman and the four other members of the Joint Chiefs sitting right behind him.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen," President Bush says as he summarizes months of discussions that have taken place, "you know why we're here. We've boiled down the various options that the CIA, the Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the Commerce Department, and State have presented to the presidential office for dealing with Iran's intransigence over its nuclear ambitions. To be exact, after checking back with your top advisers, we've come up with five of these options."
The president pauses, waving a summary statement that Stephen Hadley prepared for the meeting. It deliberately uses the sort of informal language that the president prefers in such discussions. The other members of the inner circle of decision-makers stare down at their own copies. "As I see it," Bush goes on, " we can rank the options in the following order. If you disagree, please wait until I've gone through the entire list before we open up to a careful discussion. "
Everybody nods their agreement.
"As comes as no surprise," Bush says in a monotone, "our 1st preference is to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the dispute with Teheran, in which it gives up its high-level uranium enrichment program with extensive international monitoring. Up to a point, we would be willing to offer certain concessions in return for such a deal . . . provided that we can link the rewards to Teheran also agreeing, under clear monitoring, to cease interfering in Iraqi internal developments. As even Connie agrees, though, the chances of Teheran agreeing to either of our demands, however, are virtually nil."
The president pauses, looking to see if the faces of his advisers show any signs of disagreement. Seeing none, he adds: "Our 2nd preference is to use international economic sanctions against Teheran, including the prospect of a major hike in oil prices, to force it to abandon its program.
"Would they work? No, not likely. We all know that. The NSC has looked over all the previous cases of economic sanctions used in the last 50 years, not just by the United States, but others, and it turns out that these sanctions hardly ever worked against an entrenched dictatorial regime. To make their success even less likely, we really have no chance to get Moscow and Beijing to go along with tough sanctions. And as long as that four-flushing Chirac is in power, there's little chance too that Paris won't keep insisting that we appease Teheran until the clerics there get everything they want, and then some."
"Hell," the President suddenly ad-libs, "that stiff-necked fraud would probably be willing to give away the entire store --- lock, stock, and barrel --- if Ahma-Ding-a-Ling promised a privileged contract for one or two Iranian oil wells." Laughter all around.
"Our 3rd preference is to implement our deterrent threat with non-nuclear military action. From what the Pentagon and CIA agree on, we'd only have to hit a few of the key R&D processes in Iran's nuclear weapons program to set them back a decade or two. By then, who knows? Ahma-Ding-a-Ling might have lost the election, been killed, been ousted, and maybe even the entire Iranian fascist circle along with him.
"The trouble is, immediately after a military strike Iran would probably halt all oil shipments and set off a big oil-price hike. That could badly destabilize our economy for a couple of years, all depending on just how high the price would go. In the meantime, we'd have to expect increased terrorist attacks on US citizens and soldiers, both abroad and probably at home. Then, too, if Iran tries to blockade the Persian Gulf, we'd have to be willing to face a naval battle that would require bombing their ports and other communications facilities, and probably their few air bases and operational planes.
"Any war that resulted wouldn't be long --- hells bells, we could easily decapitate much of the Republican Guard and Basai militia and other security forces with non-nukes --- but even a short war might turn much of the Iranian public against us. As we know, most of them seem to hate the mullahs in power, and even Ding-a-Ling has disappointed his mass following by not being able to improve their purchasing power at all. The economy there is a mess. Oil-revenue makes no difference. Another year or two, and Dingy might be a hated man. A US war could, oppositely, set off a nationalist upsurge that unpinned him and the hardliners who support his nuclear program and messianic Apocalypse-Now mumbo-jumbo.
The President breaks off and looks around the table again. He sees Donald frowning slightly. "Don, you have a problem with this military scenario? Steve assures me that it represents faithfully what you and the big brass have agreed on. Or maybe the generals and admirals here have their doubts too"
"Well, Mr. President, it's not entirely faithful to our thinking," Rumsfeld replies while General Moseley, the head of the Air Force, nods his head with vigor. "You see, sir, we had some disagreement among ourselves. But don't let me interrupt your presentation, Mr. President. I can raise my little caveats later."
Bush nods, a little smile on his lips. "OK, Don, later then. Let's see, where was I . . . oh yeah here," he mutters while gazing down at the summary statement again.
"OK, our 4th preference is to try encouraging a domestic revolution, centered on all those who are Farsi-speaking and hate the regime --- a majority of them all, if the CIA reports are to be believed --- and on the half of the Iranian population who are non-Persian and would like to break away: Arabs, Azerbaijanis, Baluchis, Kurds, Turkmen . . . what have you.
"In many ways, this option is preferable to our pre-emptive military action, but it would be chancy, and in any case it would probably take so long for Teheran's Islamofascist regime to fall that the nuclear program would probably lead to at least some nuclear bombs, maybe even crude ones, that Hezbollah and the other jihadi terrorists would love to get hold of. That's especially likely if a major civil war breaks out, something the CIA says is likely. And even if much of the military would desert to the rebels over time, the zealots at the head of the elite Republican Guards could also be counted on to seize even crude nuclear bombs and supply the terrorists even if the regime fell more quickly. "
A thoughtful look on his face, President Bush breaks off to sip some water. Dick Cheney, he notes, is looking more and more unhappy. The expressions on the faces of the others are more stoical, harder-to-read . . . even Rumsfeld's. "Later, Dick: I promise to get back to you. For the moment let's look at last option, OK?"
Cheney smiles agreeably. "Sure, George . . . I mean, Mr. President, please go on."
Bush sucks in a long slow breath. "Finally, ladies and gentlemen, we come to our 5th and final option. "It's one that none of us wants to fall back on: none of the departments or agencies, and certainly not this office.
"It's to accept an Iranian nuclear program, whose weapons would be in the hands of a sworn enemy of the US, whose top ranks are clerical Islamo-fascists and major terrorist supporters. We should then expect that Iran's leaders, led by an apocalyptic Islamist fanatic, are likely to try putting themselves at the head of international Islamo-fascist terrorism, seek regional dominance --- leading likely to a nuclear arms race in the most unstable region of the world --- and even supply Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Islamic jihadi Holy-War terrorist groups with.
"From what Steve says, all the Chiefs of Staff, Donald, and the top civilian specialists at the Pentagon agree that we could try, if Iran were suddenly to deploy nuclear weapons by surprise, that there is a good chance that we could deter them from ever using the nuclear weapons directly against us, but much less of a chance that Ahma-Ding-a-Ling and the mullahs wouldn't arm some terrorists with the weapons and then claim that they had nothing to do with the explosions on our forces abroad, on the Israelis, or on Americans here.
The Israelis, of course, would then retaliate and probably destroy Iran as a viable society, but if the bombs were used against us only, we would probably face immediate dissent in Congress and in the media about not rushing to retaliate, that the Iranians weren't fanatical or crazy enough to attack us even indirectly, and that we should talk and call in the UN Security Council and God knows what else. All the while, these hard-assed mullahs would probably be laughing in Teheran and preparing for new rounds of attacks."
"Amen, Mr. President," Cheney suddenly says perking up: "Yeah, laughing themselves silly. Ding-a-Ling himself would probably be telling jokes to the ghostly Mahdi in some dark room in his presidential palace and hearing hilarious laughter after each rib-tickler." Rumsfeld, Rice, and the others guffaw lightly, while the head of the air force, General Michael Moseley is trying to cover the frown tugging at his lips.
Bush looks at him carefully, then says: "General Moseley, am I right to assume that you disagree with this assessment about our ability to deter Iran from serious trouble-making if the mullahs ever get nuclear weapons? If so, please speak up. Even Secretary Rumsfeld, it seems, shares these doubts --- right Don?"
Rumsfeld scrapes his lower lid and jerks his head up and down vigorously. General Moseley takes in a deep, deep breath and says softly. "Well, yes, Mr. President: to an extent I do have to disagree respectfully. You see, sir, my colleagues in the Air Force believe that . . . etc. "
And we all see, don't we, how the concept of ranking options and guessing at the probability of their effectiveness --- on a crucial issue of national security --- can, in rough-and-ready ways, fit the demands of instrumental rationality . . . at least, on the part of the US government.
4. . . . . Does Ideological or Religious Zeal Enter into These Assumptions of Instrumental Rationality --- Say, the Kind of Islamic Apocalyptic Fervor and Jew-Hatred that Infest and Pervade the Rhetoric and Even Some Behavior of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran?
(i.) The brief, if unsurprising, answer: such ideological zeal and personality traits don't enter into deterrence theorizing at all.
Ideological or religious fanaticism, after all, isn't and can't be rational, especially if there is a risk of nuclear warfare resulting from aggressive action. Period. If religious or ideological fanatics happen to be in charge of a would-be aggressive state or terrorist group, its self-interest in survival and flourishing in the future will lead it to follow a strict instrumental rationality of a cost-benefit calculus, using the best information it has available to estimate the costs and benefits of aggressive military or terrorist action.
What ensues? By themselves, neither substantive ideology nor personality traits like extreme narcissism, megalomania, or paranoia are sufficient to doubt the efficacy of deterrence threats in the nuclear age.
(ii.) So what then explains deterrence breakdowns in the nuclear age --- not just Cuba in 1962 when Khrushchev tried to overthrow the existing balance of military power with the US and sneak Soviet missiles into Cuba, but also the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950, or the North Vietnamese invasion by large-scale forces in 1975 that violated the Paris Peace Treaty of 1973, or Saddam Hussein's invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990?
In effect, only mishaps or problems that fit the assumptions of deterrence theory can be at work here: above all, poor or inadequate signaling by the deterring state to convince the would-be aggressor that its leadership is determined, with resolute will-power, to resort to nuclear war if the target-state discounts the threat of retaliation and moves aggressively against the status-quo. Or, if not poor signaling, then the breakdown could be due to bureaucratic pathologies in either the deterring or target-state that lead to bad or misused information about the other state's will-power and options. Or, come to think it , deterrence-failure might occur for political reasons: the leaders in the deterring state could suddenly appear irresolute in the eyes of the target-state's leadership, owing, say, to vigorous domestic opposition there to war or because, alternatively, a new president or prime minister has just been elected who looks soft on the use of force, and especially nuclear force . . . say, a new US president in the Jimmy Carter mode. If the deterring state, moreover, heads an alliance like NATO, then the appearance of irresolution might result from weak-kneed allies like France suddenly leaving the alliance as a war with an enemy state looks imminent.
Anything, in other words, can explain these failures in deterrence theory except ideological or religious fanaticism. The theory always posits instrumentally rational decision-making, both in the deterring- and target- states. There are no exceptions here.
(iii.) What about the personality characteristics of a powerful dictator like Hitler or Mao or Stalin or Saddam Hussein that might make them especially high-risk gamblers: dictatorial leaders with clear psychopathological tendencies, whether megalomania, a delusive belief in their destiny to triumph, or marked paranoia? Aren't they likely to be particularly prone to discount even credible deterrent or compellent threats, whether out of ideological zeal, religious fanaticism, or because they think they are invulnerable to mortal destruction and are reckless adventurers?
Essentially, all that deterrence theory can do is restate its axiomatic beliefs in different terms to play down these personality traits . . at any rate, in the nuclear age when the deterrer could in principle totally destroy the aggressive state's urban-industrial base and even possibly its entire population. In more concrete language, deterrent theory predicts that faced with a credible nuclear retaliatory threat, even a Hitler or a Napoleon would likely behave cautiously and resort to instrumental calculations of the loose informal sort that we discussed earlier, weighing costs, benefits, and probabilities with prudence.
After all, in these circumstances, the survival of the megalomanical or extremely paranoid leader's rule and its power are in jeopardy. And so, on this view, even Hitlerian Germany could have been deterred by French and British nuclear weapons rather than start WWII in Europe with his invasion of Poland in September 1939, followed a few months later by his invasion of Holland, Belgium, and France . . . with Britain having deployed 10 of its own divisions along the Belgian-French border. After all, he wanted his new Nazi regime to last centuries into the future, and nuclear retaliation would have destroyed it and very likely killed him in the process.
(iv.) Something else of major theoretical import also follows.
In effect, the burden of ensuring credibility falls strictly on the deterring state: its leaders have to make their intentions unambiguously public, they need to threaten usable but very costly retaliatory kinds of nuclear threats, and they need to follow them up with clear military commitments and clear signaling of resolve to use force, nuclear or otherwise.
Note the shift in burden. If deterrence fails for a country like the US, the problem isn't a megalomaniac like Saddam Hussein or possibly Iranian clerical-religious fanatics in the near future. No, the problem in deterrence theory would be on the American side!
5. What, Then, Can a Government Like Ours Do to Makes Its Deterrent and Compellent Threats Credible
(i.) Start by noting that, by its very nature, compellence or coercive diplomacy is far more difficult to achieve than deterrence.
How so? True, all failed coercive threats --- whether deterrent or compellent --- are painful for the deterring or compelling state to implement. Either way, a war would likely result, and if the target-state had nuclear weapons, the resulting war might quickly turn nuclear.
By definition, though, compellent threats are generally more painful to implement if the target-state doesn't comply with the coercing state's demands to make concessions and alter the geopolitical status quo in the coercing state's favor. The clear reason: the burden of deciding whether to ignore a deterrent or compellent threat falls on different states. In deterrent cases, it's up to the target-state's leaders to decide whether the risk of war that will follow from their initiating aggressive action is worth it.
By contrast, faced with a compellent threat, the target-state's leaders need simply not comply with the demands for concessions and wait to see if the coercing state will actually then go to war to achieve its aims and punish the target-state in the process.
* A simple example should clarify the differences here.
In the cold war, to stay with our previous example, the US sought to deter a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact attack on West Europe: the burden then fell on the Soviet leadership to decide whether to ignore the deterrence threat, in this case one that entailed an escalation at some point of nuclear weapons --- whether on the battlefield or on the Soviet homeland. In the same cold war scenario, a compellent threat might have been to try coercing the Soviets to withdraw from East Berlin or else . . . the "or else" being some form of promised military retaliation that would inflict clearer costs than the benefits of their staying in Berlin. In that case, if the Soviets did nothing, the burden would then fall on the US to attack Soviet forces there or elsewhere.
Notice here how compellent threats are far harder to make credible than deterrent threats. The latter seek to defend or protect the existing geo-political status-quo. Compellent threats or coercive diplomacy are intended to alter the existing geo-political status-quo in favor of the coercing state.
Compellence was never attempted by the US directly against the Soviet Union any time during the cold war anywhere --- let alone in Europe --- except once. That was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. When the US failed to deter the Khrushchev-led Soviet Politburo from implanting missiles on Cuban soil, the Kennedy administration then escalated the diplomatic crisis by threatening to attack directly Soviet missiles and ships and compelling the Soviets to withdraw; and to add a carrot to the coercive diplomacy, it offered to withdraw outmoded liquid-fuel ballistic missiles from Turkey.
* Here's a more recent and relevant example. Deterrence failed in August 1990 when Saddam Hussein, ignoring vaguely defined American threats of retaliation, invaded and seized Kuwait. For that matter, the use of defensive force to repel the Iraqi invasion wasn't used; there was none available for that purpose when Saddam's forces crossed the Kuwaiti border. The US then rushed several hundred thousand troops to the Gulf Region . . . first to deter or repel any further Iraqi aggression, and then --- as American forces built up and allies were rounded up --- by coercive threats to attack Iraq and Iraqi forces if Saddam didn't withdraw from annexed Kuwait. The coercive nature of the compellent threat was bolstered by UN support in October, plus the arrival in the Gulf region of some European and Arab military forces.
Saddam didn't take seriously the compellent threat. Alternatively, if he didn't think it was a bluff, he believed that the US-led coalition could be defeated --- who knows? In the event, the date set for Iraqi compliance was passed in mid-January 1991, and the US and its allies went on the offensive. They were obligated by a UN Security Council resolution to do so. Six weeks later, Saddam's forces were trounced everywhere.
(iii.) What then can the deterring state do to enhance the credibility of its retaliatory threats?
There are only so many alternatives open to a government like the US's, none fool-proof:
It can try to project an even more costly threat of retaliatory destruction in order to make the deterring threat more credible . . . such as a direct and credible attack on the political and military leadership itself, or the infrastructure and economic base of the country, or the urban population itself.
It can commit forces in advance, if there's enough time, right on the borders of the target-state --- either on land or by sea.
Or it can resort to high-risk behavior of their own, which is usually called brinksmanship: say, by providing the threatened ally with its own nuclear forces or some other automatic retalitaory device that leaves no doubt in the minds of the target-state's leadership that nuclear war would automatically result from its aggressive action.
6. Still, the Key Point Here Remains: Deterrence Failures Abound in History
Throughout pre-nuclear history and even during the cold war and since, deterrence has repeatedly failed despite the clear power superiority of the deterring state or coalition that have included unequivocal military commitments to reinforce the credibility of their deterrence threats. And repeatedly the main reason for the failures has been the image held by the aggressive states' leaders that they were superior in morale, determination, will power, and willingness to accept large casualities in order to achieve their military objectives. To judge by how Nazis, Fascists, militarists, Communists, and more recently Islamo-fascists see the US and other democratic countries --- including Hezbollah's, Hamas', and Islamic Jihad's views of Israel --- these aggressive groups have tended to see us as wavering hesitant peoples who don't have the stomach for prolonged and brutal warfare of various sorts.
That the Nazis, Fascists, Japanese militarists, and Communists proved wrong in the long run hasn't, note carefully, prevented our Islamo-fascists enemies --- whether clerical-fascist Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and numerous Islamic jihadi terrorists --- from maintaining the same view of us today. And in some respects, who can blame them . . . especially when you consider the powerful appeasement tendendies built these days into West European diplomacy and political life, as well as in various sectors of the political left in the US?
By contrast, political leaders in solidly institutionalized democracies have to serve long apprenticeships in lower offices before they can ever reach the top, and those whose personalities are marred by pathological narcissism, outright megalomania, or pathological paranoia will find it increasingly hard to get re-elected as mayors, governors, or senators in the US presidential system or move up in a parliamentary party from backbenchers to junior ministers to the party's choice to become its Prime Minister or candidate for that office..
HOW SOUND ARE THESE SIX KEY POSTULATES OF DETERRENCE THEORY?
Though it's hard to be categorical here, there is good reason to be skeptical about the claim that an aggressor-state's leadership --- irrespective of marked ideological or religious zeal --- will always behave with careful calculating rationality in the face of what the deterring state regards as a credible threat of very destructive retaliation, nuclear or otherwise: which means, to be as concrete as we can here, that the leaders of the deterring state have clearly and unambiguously deployed and committed themselves to employing military forces and weaponry to carry out the retaliatory threat while enjoying domestic support to fight a war and --- if it has allies --- enjoying the support of the allied governments and populations too.
The record of warfare, before and after the nuclear age, underpins this skepticism in a variety of ways.
(i.) Historically, even short of religious or ideological fervor, the political leaders of various militarized states have repeatedly started war despite knowing that their enemy or coalition of enemies looks far more powerful on paper and have clearly defined an unambiguous casus belli.
On paper, to clarify this key point, the enemy state might enjoy a much larger population on the enemies' side, much larger GDP, much larger military forces --- whether already activated and operationally ready before the war or likely to be mobilized over time should the war that the aggressor-state starts turns out to be protracted. To go to war in the face of these considerations --- a larger enemy population, wealth, military personnel and actual or potential firepower --- is precisely what we mean by a high-risk adventure.
And yet, repeatedly --- from ancient times right down to the present --- the leaders of weaker states have started wars and at times won. Other times, of course --- as with WWII --- the highly risk-taking states have lost. A question swiftly rears up: what has motivated those high-risk leaders to launch such dangerous military adventures?
(ii.) The answer is complex, but --- stripped to the bones --- it reduces to a trio of considerations:
1. The aggressor state believes it has a superior military strategy that can nullify the actual and potential power of the enemy state or coalition.
Hence Hitler's lightening warfare or Blitzkrieg strategy at the start of WWII, which led him to discount the German High Command's warnings that Nazi Germany would eventually face a far superior coalition of enemy states and lose the war --- and, for that matter, which brought him and Germany success initially: first against Poland in September 1939, then later against France and the rest of Continental West Europe in the spring of 1940. Hence, too, the Japanese militarist leadership deciding in the summer of 1941 to launch surprise attacks on US and British (and Commonwealth) forces at Pearl Harbor and Singapore in December, and later against American forces in the Philippines. Both these aggressive militarized states lost their gambles. Both were totally destroyed in WWII, and both lost their independence to the winning Allied Coalition.
At times, though, adventures do pay off. Japan defeated Russia after launching a surprise attack on the Russian Pacific Fleet in 1904. Prussia, under Bismarck, provoked France into war in 1871, and won quickly to everyone else's surprise . . . not least the French's.
In a more ambiguous situation back in the 5th century B.C.E., tiny Sparta, Athens, and the other Greek city states warned the Persian Empire --- a super-power of the day --- that further advances westward into Greek territory in what is now western Turkey would lead them to go to war. Call it high-risk deterrence of a reckless sort. The Persian Empire towered over the Greeks in population, military personnel, wealth, and what have you, yet when the Persians ignored the deterrent threat and invaded the Greek mainland, 400 Spartan warriors --- using their phalanx tactics and showing remarkable courage --- held off a million Persian troops and forced a retreat back onto their ships . . . at which point, the Athenian navy, despite being far outmanned and outgunned, proceeded to use new tactics to rip apart most of the Persian ships.
2. At times, too, a weak state or terrorist movement might undertake a high-risk aggressive war because it has a unique strategy adapted to specific terrain --- jungles, massive forests, narrow river valleys towered over by huge mountains, or more recently large urban sprawl --- that thwarts the superior material power of the enemy state or coalition.
The Afghan resistance against the Soviets and the Soviet-backed Afghan government is a good example here. The same is true of the Iraqi terrorists, insurgents, and militias fighting the US-led coalition in that country right now, though whether they will win or not is another matter . . . which, come to think of it, leads to the third and final reason.
3. Frequently, influenced by its specific state or terrorist-group ideology, whether secular or religious, the would-be aggressor's leadership discounts the morale, will-power, and options of the deterring state's leaders and population.
That interpretation, to take two blatant instances in the last century, was reached independently by both the racist Nazis and the racist Japanese leadership of American determination and will to wage war against them if they attacked us. Japan, of course, launched such an attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941; Hitler declared war on us the day after. But note? Both such actions occurred before the nuclear age, and so the proponents of deterrence theory argue that if the US had maintained an invulnerable nuclear retaliatory force --- invulnerable here means that even if Japan or Nazi Germany had struck our nuclear force out of the blue, enough missiles and bombers would have survived to be able to inflict unacceptable retaliatory destruction --- even Hitler and the Japanese military zealots would have been deterred knowing this.
Is that true though? Even if we can't be sure here, it seems doubtful.
Over and again, after all --- from the Iranian Shiite revolution in 1979 on --- successive US presidents failed to respond effectively to terrorist assaults on the American troops and civilians here and abroad by the Iranian clerical fascists, by Hezbollah, by the al-Qaeda types who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993, and by the al Qaeda attacks on our embassies in Africa or on the USS Cole in Yemen in the Clinton era. We also cut and ran from the Somalian intervention in September 1993. Small wonder that they have been surprised by George Bush's determination to take the war on Islamo jihadi-fascism in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a dozen other foreign countries after 2001, and no doubt the various leaders of these jihadi terrorist groups are delighted that our country's electorate has been so divided over the Iraqi occupation . . . this, despite lots of obvious errors that have marked the Bush administration's policies there since April 2003.
For one thing, even after Japan had all but lost WWII --- its navy destroyed, its industrial base shattered, its cities being firebombed every night, Nazi Germany out of the war, American forces shifting from Europe to Asia, and food and raw material imports virtually blocked --- the war cabinet ignored the initial bombing of Hiroshima and continued for several days to stick with its strategy of fighting, if need be, to the last Japanese man, woman, and child in case of an American invasion . . . with the result, it was hoped, that before that final self-destruction, American will-power to continue fighting the Japanese on the main homeland islands would collapse and compel the White House to opt for a compromise peace.
For another thing --- to look at Nazi Germany ---Hitler himself had continued the fight against the allies even when Russian troops were all over Berlin's outskirts and pouring into the city, committing suicide rather than surrendering. Before he died, he ordered his associates to flood the German bomb shelters in the Berlin subways, believing the Germans had let him down --- he, the great man of Aryan destiny --- and that they had proved to be the inferior race compared to the Soviet "hordes". And what exactly was rational earlier on, when Nazi Germany was still on French and Russian soil, of accelerating the Holocaust annihilation of Europe's Jews, a fanatical, monstrously evil act that diverted precious resources from the overburdened Germany war economy?
More recently, in an era of overwhelming American nuclear and non-nuclear military superiority, a similar interpretation of American weakness and lack of stomach for prolonged war and terrorism has also underlay the thinking of al Qaeda and large numbers of Islamo-fascists today, and in a way, who can blame them?
In case you think that Islamo-fascist fervor is unique here, note that North Korea --- egged on by both the Stalinist Soviet Union and Maoist China --- attacked American forces in South Korea in June 1950, even though the US alone had a clear and overwhelming nuclear and bomber superiority over the incipient Russian nuclear force at the time. Again and again, moreover, other Communist foes of the US carried out what were limited but determined aggressive actions to shift the geopolitical status quo in their favor during the cold war: especially North Vietnam in the late 1950s, the 1960s, and early 1970s. The leaders of North Vietnam, Communist Cuba, Allende-Chile, and Sandinista Nicaragua though they could control the escalation of various aggressive actions and discounted American willingness to match them in determination and will-power, including the willingness to suffer military casualties in any wide war.
For that matter, Khrushchev's Soviet Union resorted to an extravagantly high-risk maneuver in the fall of 1962 to turn the nuclear balance topsy-turvy by planting Soviet missiles in Cuba, less than 100 miles from US territory.
Oops! Once again, running out of breath, the bugged-out mind of prof bug has grown weary and resistant, and his half-swollen hard-pounding fingers are beginning to shoot blasts of ouch-signals up his arms and neck and right to the few cells still awake in his ragged brain. All of which, as you might guess, is a windy way of saying that the current article will be continued in a follow-up installment that will appear in a few days.